BLOG POST Education’s Digital Future—Gaming to Learn talk at Stanford University 2013 – Ariel Liu

Ariel LiuEven after three decades of research on combining digital games and learning in schools, the successful turnout at the talk showed that it is still a hot topic today.

The event was organized by the Stanford University Graduate School of Education as part of their departmental seminar and forum. It was also open to the public to allow greater discussion and debate. Indeed, the lecture theater was tightly packed with graduate students, professors, industry consultants, and even parents with babies. This diverse audience clearly shows that we still care about how we play and what we learn from it.

The forum invited four famous key speakers: Malcolm Bauer, Professor James Gee, Professor Dan Schwartz, and Professor Constance Steinkuehler. These speakers offered different perspectives, research interests, and thoughts on policy-making decisions, and shared current developments in the field. The brief answer to the question of what our digital future is: It is still in progress.

The panelists gave an optimistic report of what we have found so far—essentially, that games create good experiences, which may lead to more engagement, interest, and motivation to learn, plus practice at problem-solving skills. Mr. Bauer, the director of assessment at GlassLab Games, gave examples of how fun and learning can be connected through his son’s case of playing a game and solving mathematical problems.

But although there are possibilities and great potential, are these games going to be implemented in schools? The challenges we face today, as Professor Schwartz noted, are that the positive results seen with these games cannot match up with a school’s measurements of facts, normative explanations, and procedures. He stressed that we should measure what counts for good decision-making. On top of that, Professor Gee expressed that we should try to avoid creating games as digital textbooks, but rather use digital technology as an infinite space in which to have a collective intelligence. In other words, we should create a social networking space to discuss and solve problems. He then briefly listed his twenty-three rules for his “Big G” concept.

The forum was also given a little beacon of hope when Professor Steinkuehler mentioned that the Obama administration took an interest in this field two years ago. She stressed that games are architecture for engagement, which is key to learning. She ended on a high note, suggesting that there should be more collaboration among academic researchers, industries, and policy makers, who should work together to make this happen.

For me, this sounded slightly too optimistic and utopian, especially when Professor Mitchell Stevens in the crowd raised questions of desire and the problem of violent games. But I left the talk with one major question in mind: Why is it still so hard for mainstream education to accept digital game-based learning? Should “Big G” really be the solution, as Gee listed in his rules? Surely, there must be different sizes of ‘G’, as people learn things differently.

While I was frowning at this, another audience member walking next to me smiled and jokingly said, “It’s all part of the game.” I realized that even after thirty years of research and development, this field is still fascinating because we continue to question whether or how we should combine digital games and schools. There is no perfect formula for learning, but this solution just sounds more fun than others.

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